Fact: Agents are trading their phones for advanced booking tools more and more, and the process is being streamlined down to a few keystrokes. From the four GDSs to independent organizations, companies are looking to advance in everything from booking IT infrastructure to a further deconstruction of the value of an airline seat. We examined some of the more recent booking tools and the features they offer.
Accessing the GDS Via the Internet
With Travelport (www.travelport.com) sporting both Galileo and Worldspan in its arsenal, it has several ways to attract agents. Keith Nyhouse, director of product management for Galileo, says one standout for the company is savings on hardware components with secured socket layer (SSL) technology.
"In Q4, 2007, SSL will enable Galileo subscribers to access Apollo and/or Galileo over the Internet via solutions such as Galileo Desktop," says Nyhouse. "It eliminates the need for additional components, such as expensive dedicated customer circuits and routers, as well as the need to maintain special customer router and firewall rules. It also eliminates the need for complicated VPN connectivity. With no limitations to the number of SSL connections, access performance is limited only by the agency's bandwidth to the Internet."
From the inside, David Goodis, CEO of Revelex (www.revelex.com), which is partnering on Galileo cruise and tour products with PowerAgent, says his company's system will stop agents from spending too much time on the telephone, giving them quicker access to information, pricing and availability. "If agents want to search products, they need a reservoir of data from vendors or they have to go through brochures offline, but we give them an electronic interface for pricing availability worldwide for products, and an ASP model, so whether home or on the road they can access the system," he says. "It has all the customer data and can plan, book and manage the entire itinerary or offer agents a bookable web site so they can offer customers leisure suite pics or deck plans."
PowerAgent, which is a desktop license sold on a per-user basis with a $99 setup fee, also has a point redemption system through the loyalty account and customer reward program information. "To further customize the client's air travel experience, agents will also have direct access to seat maps so clients can choose their seat preference when traveling. In addition, an online re-fare tool has also been implemented so that agents can now properly apply the guaranteed airfare for ticketing and post-ticketing if needed," Goodis said.
Nyhouse adds, in regard to cruises and tours: "We've leveraged the best of breed direct API connections to ensure that Galileo subscribers can bring the best possible value to the end traveler. Agents will see improved efficiencies from the solution that has a consistent shopping and booking path across the cruise and tour verticals, competitively shops vendors in one results display, integrates PNRs into Apollo, and has robust customer profile and lead tracking functionality. Galileo Leisure allows agents access from anywhere they have an internet connection, at any time."
Beyond the Basics
Kathy Fitzpatrick, vice president of North America distribution for Worldspan (www.worldspan.com), has a triumvirate of products making the difference on her GDS side of the Travelport fence. Worldspan GO! Car has a new comparison-shopping feature, which provides results based on price, car company and location. "Booking data can be automatically pre-populated from existing reservations—a big time-saver for agents," says Fitzpatrick.
Among the other highlights, according to Worldspan, are interactive links, pop-up calendars and dialog boxes.
The GO! Hotel Booking tool takes more of a beginner's stance, honing in on the agent not as familiar with traditional GDS formats. "Agents have sorting and display options, including a feature that displays only available hotels," says Fitzpatrick. "Worldspan is introducing a new rail-booking tool, which will provide the ability to book up to three rail associates. This one-stop intuitive tool provides access to the full portfolio of Amtrak, Eurostar and AccessRail (including BritRail and Eurail) products in a graphical web-like environment, making it easier to view and book rail."
Improving All the Time
One booking tool that Worldspan and Amadeus (www.amadeus.com) both converted to over the summer, was BookingBuilder. According to www.bookingbuilder.com, it enables the GDS to "take the time and complexity out of making bookings on many supplier web sites. It automatically notifies you when a supplier serves a market, so you don't have to remember what markets are served. It opens the supplier site, fills in the request, copies your profile data into the site and puts the confirmation details into your GDS." The price is $17.95 per desktop, though the rates can be much lower depending on the GDS you use.
Another major booking advance for Amadeus is over at Vacation.com, says Stephen McGil-livray, vice president of marketing for the GDS-owned consortium. "In the fall, we're launching EZguider—it's a booking platform with performance-based booking incentives for agents up to $1,000. Some of the bigger selling points are quick product comparisons and ready information for making the sale. It allows you to have your images and cruise information ready to go."
Another booking improvement is Amadeus Activities & Entertainment. According to the GDS' web site, it will be available through multiple channels, whether used by an online or traditional agency: "Through a smart tab within the Amadeus Selling Platform, travel agencies can offer their clients tailored destination content, providing an innovative approach to selling commissionable products beyond air travel. Destination content can be accessed by entering the customer's Passenger Name Record, location or travel dates, choosing from a vast array of options that can be customized according to the user's needs."
Helping Define Brands
As far as GDS player Sabre (www.sabre.com) is concerned, its newest booking tool is its Distribution Merchandising Suite, focusing on selling the more attractive seats in coach class. Sabre partnered with Midwest Airlines for the launch since the Milwaukee-based carrier is focusing on legroom and other amenities to upgrade its position in the industry. In addition, it has also aligned with Quantas to choose "fare families" for agents with Sabre Branded Fares, which, again, recognizes value that's more than just lowest price.
"Airlines in Australia and New Zealand have led the move to using a select number of branded 'fare families' that have simple, but clearly differentiated rules. This has also enabled carriers to assign attributes to the various fare families to differentiate themselves in this highly competitive marketplace," says Hans Belle, vice president of marketing for Sabre Travel Network. "This innovative feature significantly enhances an airline's product branding and consistency across channels to the benefit of travel agencies and the end consumer."
In addition, Sabre is making improvements to Sabre Cruises. It lists its new features as enhanced client documentation for printing cabin pictures and pricing. Quick sells and cloning are also represented by the GDS as leading highlights. Kathryn Hayden, spokesperson for Sabre, reminded us that the company is focused more on closing the sale, the key to booking in the first place. "Our new trip proposal tool will be released later this fall," she says. "Agents can build a professional proposal for their clients. They can add proposed travel segments from the Sabre system or other booking tools/web sites, as well as destination photographs from our large photograph library."
Finally, Virtuoso (www.virtuoso.com) is also looking to make headway with Composer, which is being integrated as a replacement for Virtuoso.net. Concentrat-ing on the point of sale, Composer focuses on having supplier, buyer and traveler counselor information at the ready. With a mission to limit the amount of time it takes agents to book, it also tries to create an easier way for suppliers to update their information in the system to give agents accurate information.
The Future of Booking
As we look ahead at booking tools, it's obvious that functionality still has a long way to go, but it will be important to keep offerings simple so any agent can work the systems without major training. Worldspan says it wants to provide greater focus to home-based agents by embracing their GUI booking tools, but Revelex's Goodis goes further, believing there are ways to incorporate Google or Overture e-mail blasts.
"Agents have shown that they can become tech savvy very quickly," Goodis says. "If we can limit the cost for these new products, it will mean the two-person shop can compete, allowing for more high-revenue home-based agents. Since more of our customers are coming from the smaller shops, booking tools need to be created with them specifically in mind."